Sunday April 12th marks 60 years since the polio vaccine, developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, was declared “safe, effective, and potent.” April 12th also marks 70th years since of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose paralysis was generally believed to be caused by polio.
Prior to 1955 the dreaded disease afflicted 600,000 people around the world each year, including about 50,000 children in the U.S. There is still no known cure for the disease which could cause various degrees of paralysis and is sometimes fatal. The testing of the vaccine, known as the Francis Field Trial, was the largest medical experiment in history up at that point, involving more than 1.8 million children from Maine to California.
Polio was officially eradicated in the United States in 1979. However, worldwide there still remain occasional outbreaks. In fact, in 2014 the World Health Organization declared polio’s renewed spread a “world health emergency” and the civil in Syria has led to more than 90 cases reported in that country. There have also been at least 20 cases reported in Pakistan in 2015.
Given recent measles outbreaks in the U.S. — another preventable disease with an effective vaccination — a 2010 documentary on the polio vaccination is receiving extra attention these days. Carl Kurlander, CEO of the company which produced the film A Shot Felt ‘Round the World reports increased interest in the film from groups interested in promoting the importance of vaccination. The World Health Organization hopes to eradicate polio worldwide by 2018.
“There’s no technical reason why there should be cases anywhere in the world by the end of this year,” said Oliver Rosenbauer, communications officer for the World Health Organization’s Global Polio Eradication Initiative. “It’s a question of political will and societal will.”